Admonish the sinner

| Father Michael Van Sloun | September 20, 2016 | 0 Comments

To admonish the sinner is one of the seven spiritual works of mercy, and like the other six, it is concerned with the spiritual well-being of another.

To admonish someone is to warn about a fault; to correct wrongdoing; to scold, usually mildly; or to remind someone to do the right thing. This good work is extremely difficult and delicate. Most people dislike conflict. Few people welcome correction. It is natural to be defensive. It is hard to speak up, to know when to speak and how to effectively deliver the message.

My mother was a master at this in our home when I was a boy. If I said a bad word or was mean to my sister, she would say to me more often than I cared to hear, “Silence is consent,” and then add, “I love you too much not to bring this to your attention.” Her admonishment was an act of love that helped me to turn away from my sin.

To admonish the sinner runs contrary to the modern trend not to be judgmental. We are told repeatedly that we should be accepting of others. Jesus loved people, but he did not accept their sins. Jesus judged constantly between good and evil, right and wrong, the truth and lies. He could tell the difference and refused to turn a blind eye to sin. As his followers, Christians must be judgmental as Jesus was, honestly evaluate all that is happening, affirm what is good and wholesome, but oppose that which is wrong, misguided, harmful or destructive.

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ opening message was “Repent” (Mk 1:15). It is an admonishment to all sinners. When the disciples panicked during the storm at sea, Jesus asked with a reproving tone, “Do you not yet have faith?” (Mk 4:40). When the disciples failed to pay attention or think intelligently, he chided them, “Are even you likewise without understanding?” (Mk 7:18). When the disciples tried to keep the children away from Jesus, he corrected them, “Let the children come to me” (Mk 10:14). When James and John asked for positions of importance, he reminded them about servant leadership (Mk 10:35-45).

Occasionally Jesus intensified his admonishment, such as when Peter wrongfully advised him not to go to Jerusalem. It is a sin to go against God’s will, and Jesus sternly rebuked him, “Get behind me, Satan” (Mk 8:33). His admonishment was harshest and most direct with the religious leaders. He reprimanded them, “You hypocrites” (Mk 7:6), and he confronted them with their sin, “You disregard God’s commandment” (Mk 7:8).

While it is a spiritual good to admonish a sinner, it does not give license to unload on someone. I was a high school basketball coach before I became a priest. In one game, the point guard for our team played miserably in the first half: out of control, selfish, multiple turnovers, forced shots, defiant. I stormed into the locker room at halftime and raked him over the coals with a blistering rant. In the second half he played as badly as the first. As I sat on the bench watching, I thought, humiliated, “Michael, your tirade was all about you and venting your anger, and had nothing to do with helping that young man.” It became eminently clear to me what wiser Christians have known all along: Correction must be constructive, given in charity, be given under control, be the product of prayer, and be for the sinner’s benefit.

Father Van Sloun is pastor of St. Bartholomew in Wayzata. Read more of his reflections at

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Category: Year of Mercy